Peaceful Yuyuan Garden

A tranquil escape from the bustle of Shanghai

By: Beverly Burmeier

SHANGHAI Enter the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai and you step on a walkway of original stones set in intricate patterns, laid when the garden was first created more than 400 years ago. Look up and you see lush greenery, freshly pruned by the caretaker on a ladder, and blooming pink flowers tenderly groomed by the same young man. Such is the juxtaposition of old and new found so often in China today and especially in cities like Shanghai, a flourishing international metropolis, yet one of the most historically important cities in China.

After the government took over this private site, restored it and opened it to the public in the 1960s, Yuyuan Garden provided a quiet spot for locals to escape the flurry of its central city location. Later, when foreign relations with China resumed, it quickly became a popular tourist destination, as it captures the essence of ancient Chinese beliefs and artistry.

Built between 1559 and 1577 by Pan Yunduan to honor his parents, the private garden was intended to bring them pleasure and comfort in their later years. Yunduan, a wealthy government official, spent his life savings to create a beautiful place that he called “Yu,” which in Chinese means “peace and health.” After Pan Yunduan’s death, his family’s fortunes declined and the garden fell into disuse. Although there were several attempts to improve its condition, civil conflicts in the mid-19th century caused great damage. After Shanghai’s liberation in 1956, the city reconstructed the garden and refurbished landscaping to reflect its former glory.

Wandering through the maze of doorways and halls, zigzagging across bridges over ponds and rockeries, the visitor is immersed in luxuriant scenery. It’s easy to imagine ancient Chinese strolling beside the Lotus Pool and sipping tea at the renowned Huxining Teahouse. More than 30 scenic spots scattered throughout the garden offer ample photo opportunities and reprieve from crowded streets outside.

Yuyuan Garden is a classic example of Chinese artistic architecture from the Ming Dynasty. Included are the main design elements of most Chinese gardens: water, rocks and plants share equal importance and combine to make outstanding sceneries. Extensive natural rock formations and carvings reminiscent of the South China landscape are prominently featured since the Chinese regard stones as living beings. Interesting roof patterns with upturned eaves and colorful hanging lanterns also catch your attention. Ponds scattered throughout the Garden catch reflections from surrounding buildings. Often hidden behind or surrounded by huge boulders, these ponds appear as a bit of surprise a style of garden that contrasts with the general openness of those of the West.

The Garden encompasses five acres, with six major parts Grand Rockery, Ten Thousand-Flower Pavilion, Hall of Heralding Spring, Hall of Jade Magnificence, Inner Garden and Lotus Pool separated by a white brick wall. On top of the wall is a continuous carving of a gray dragon actually five dragons that curl around into one huge creature that the Chinese believed would ward off evil spirits.

The Grand Rockery consists of 2,000 tons of original rock formations in peaks, cliffs, caves and gorges, all designed to resemble a real mountain. The Hall of Heralding Spring, in the eastern part of the garden, was built in 1820 and served as a base for an uprising against the Qing dynasty in the 1850s. Weapons and coins from this occupation are currently exhibited in the hall.

Rare rosewood furniture dating from the Ming Dynasty is showcased in the Hall of Jade Magnificence. Intricate carvings of historical scenes make these pieces treasured by museums and collectors. A century-old set of furniture made from roots of banyan trees knobby chair seats and backs provided an ancient form of massage is displayed nearby. Restoration of the owner’s home is a more recent undertaking.

Rockeries, ponds, and walls make the Inner Garden a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of bazaar traffic. A gingko tree thought to be 400 years old stands in front of the Ten Thousand Flower Pavilion, and the Lotus Pool, thought to originally be the center of the Garden, lies south of the main gate. Each area has a feeling of balance and harmony, and walkways flow gently from one to the other with a sense of overall unity. If you visit, plan to spend at least two hours touring the grounds (morning is less busy); and take enough time to let the views of water, rock and plants inspire your imagination of peaceful Chinese life in ancient times.

Yuyuan Garden is open daily from 9 to 5 and admission is about $2 U.S. No pre-arrangements are necessary for individuals; however, tour operators should generally work with local agents to set up group visits, according to Grace Zhu of China National Tourist Office in Los Angeles (818-545-7507; Zhu suggests contacting Shanghai Spring International Travel Service USA, Inc. in San Gabriel, Calif., (626-571-5800) for help in making arrangements.


Got a hankering for authentic Chinese dim sum, pigeon-egg dumplings, or spicy cold noodles? If you’re brave enough to try these delicacies, visit the Yuyuan Market, where street stalls compete with restaurants for business.

Located in the heart of Shanghai’s old Chinese Quarter next to Yuyuan Garden, the Yuyuan Market is a famous bazaar with more than 100 shops selling Chinese arts and crafts, chopsticks, pottery, fans and umbrellas. Formerly narrow alleys have been widened in recent years to accommodate the influx of tourists and locals shopping for bargains.

Walk a few blocks to the Bund, the most famous sightseeing spot in Shanghai. With a popular park along the flood-control embankment bordering the Huangpu River, this spot clearly symbolizes the distinction between East and West. On one side of the waterfront are historic buildings in what used to be Shanghai’s premier commercial and financial district. Busy Nanjing Street offers the consummate shopping experience in modern department stores and malls that contrast with the bazaar-style market. Across the river are modern skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, built within the last decade and highlighting Shanghai’s constantly changing skyline.